Monday, April 21, 2014

Mustill Store

The site of the Mustill Store is at the bottom of the hill on North Street, not far from the intersection at Howard Street.

The Mustill Store Visitors Center
by Joanna Wilson

Most of us have been past the Mustill Store, located right along the Towpath Trail just north of downtown.  But have you stopped, gone inside, and enjoyed the historical displays and information on the inside?  It had been awhile since I had done that--so I went again to the museum and familiarized myself once again with the history of this special place.

If you're not running or biking past the store on the towpath, you can easily find the Mustill Store behind the parking lot off North Street.

The Mustill Store's location--right along the towpath--makes it easy to find.  But this living site of Akron's past is also one of the most accessible history museums in the area.  It is open seven days a week from April through October each year (thanks to the Cascade Locks Park Association and their volunteers).

The convenient location of the Mustill Store isn't just a contemporary advantage.  The store's location had much to do with its success during the nineteenth century and why it remains as a museum.  The store was a profitable business that operated directly across from Lock 15 along the canal--a bustling water route that hauled goods and passengers by boat.  For people who love history as much as I do, it's fun to re-call that the Towpath Trail was once literally a path for mules to tow the heavy boats that lined the canalway.  An essential part of canalways were the systems of locks, allowing the boats to continue along the canal despite any change in elevation.  Think about it--a couple of mules and horses could never pull a heavy boat UP or DOWN waterways.  The boats need flat water conditions to be towed--and the locks provided a controlled way to change the water levels and keep the boats moving along.  In the Cascade Valley, the elevation changes 150 feet within a mile so there were created seventeen locks--known as the Cascade Locks--to create a controlled and safe water level for the passing boats.  Navigating each lock might take twenty minutes or more, so boat owners, crew, and even passengers might get off the boat.  A place like the Mustill Store located right along Lock 15 had a steady stream of customers each day--perhaps as many as seventy boats a day stopping and doing business.  Of course, Akron wouldn't even be a city without the canal--having the means to ship to and from this region meant our natural resources and farm goods could be sold and transported elsewhere, and manufacturing could develop.  The story of the Mustill Store is essentially Akron's story.

The inside of the museum reflects the origins of the building as a store...

....complete with an iron stove in its center.

Inside the Mustill Store, you can read the many displays which explain the three generations of the Mustill family, immigrants from England, who ran the store throughout the nineteenth century.  There is also information about what goods the store sold, what life in early Akron was like, and about the store's eventual restoration.  In a side room, there is even a display to help visitors understand how the lock system worked and what life on the canal was like back then.  While I'm aware that travel was extremely grueling in the nineteenth century (before railroads, before cars, etc), it's still shocking to learn that canal boat passengers from Cleveland to Akron, a 38 mile trip, usually arrived after 24 hours!?  I'm not going to complain about the drive along 77 South again.

The Mustill Store Visitors Center includes this back room with more details about how the canalway and the lock system worked.

This helpful display will help visitors better visualize how the locks work to raise and lower water levels so boats can continue along the canal despite changes in ground elevation.

Visiting the Mustill Store Visitors Center is free and open to the public.  The displays include information but there are always helpful, knowledgeable volunteers there to assist you with any questions as well.  You can also learn about their Friday music concert series, the annual Duck Derby, and their other events at the Cascade Locks Park Association website.  You can also follow them on facebook:

When you visit the Mustill Store, don't forget to go across North Street and check out Schumacher's Mill water wheel display too!

Akron Empire and its guest bloggers have visited other local historical sites as well.  Please feel free to check out these past blog posts: The Hower House, John Brown House, and Perkins Stone Mansion.

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